The rise of smartphones has left us tapping away at touchscreens. In this week's Big Future, we look at what comes after the glass. Will we all be speaking to our devices? Are augmented reality glasses and contacts going to feed us information all day? Or does touch interaction work so well that we'll never really replace it?
Touch has dominated for a long time
We've accessed and manipulated information with our hands and fingers for decades. Whether we recognize it or not, our brains are constantly processing information afforded by what we hold and telling our hands how to respond. What we've lost over the years as we swapped mouse and keyboard for glass touchscreens, though, is feedback. Our phones and tablets demand our attention in part because we have no sure way of knowing what we're tapping when we look away.
Augmented reality is one possibility, and it's almost here
The technology that is perhaps the closest to replacing touch interaction is augmented reality. The idea of overlaying information on the things we see is attractive to many people, but the application of it is still clumsy. Google Glass is too expensive and limited, and more miniaturized versions (like electronic contacts) are still a bit of a pipe dream. Removing touch in this way begets other problems like needing to use voice control or eye tracking — both of which still have their own unique issues.
Maybe we have a way to bring this all together. In the future, it could be possible to use implants or nano-technology to let us feel things that aren't there. While a digital display makes it look like a button is hovering in the air in front of you, the next breakthrough would let you feel like you were pressing it, providing haptic feedback for a gesture control system. We're still a long way for making that system work, but a lot of people are trying.